Sally Mann

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ETHICAL THEORIES IN ACTION

A quick look through some of the images in Sally Mann’s “Immediate Family” and one can already see how this body of work might be considered controversial. The dark images taken with her 8 by 10 camera of her nude children are easily interpreted in inappropriate ways. For Sally Mann, being naked was natural and not something to be ashamed of. For others however, the naked images of Mann’s children could be seen as pornographic and inappropriate. Subjective relativism can be applied to this situation because what is considered natural, or “morally right” for Sally Mann may be considered “wrong” for someone else. This theory claims that each individual may decide for himself or herself what is moral, which in this case is the appropriateness of the naked images of her children. Although some adult viewers may be uncomfortable with her work, the images were taken with the consent of her children and they do not cause harm to anyone; therefor Mann is not in the wrong. Each individual, whether they believe Mann’s work to be artistic genius or pornographic, must accept one another’s view of the work according to subjective relativism. A child’s reaction to these photographs would be much less dramatic than that of an adult’s. As an adult viewer, I may over exaggerate the sexual meaning of the photographs, or perhaps I simply notice the true message Mann was trying to express in her photographs; a message that a child would not understand. For example, the image “After the Party, 1989” of her husband holding her child’s naked body in an uncomfortable position sparks immediate thoughts of child abuse or pedophilia. However, viewers of this image ten or even twenty years ago might not have had the same initial reaction. This is explained with cultural relativism, which states that opinions on what is right and wrong may depend on the time and place. Twenty years ago nudity was not as sexualized as it is today, and the media had not yet...
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